CD Review: Scott Kempner's "Live on Blueberry Hill"

Considering Scott “Top Ten” Kempner’s music roots, being a founding member of proto punk-rock icons The Dictators and all, you might not expect a live solo-acoustic release from the Bronx-born guitarist... and as it turns out, with this live recording, Kempner wasn’t expecting it either.

Review by Joe Milliken * Photo courtesy of Scott Kempner

Released in January on the independent GB Music label, Live on Blueberry Hill chronicles a 1993, intimate Kempner solo performance at Cicero’s, located at the Blueberry Hill club in St. Louis. The performance reveals that for as much of a hard-edged rocker as he was back in the day, Scott is as much a thoughtful and intuitive songwriter today, thank you very much.

The circumstances leading up to this “impromptu solo tour,” we’ll say, were unique to say the least. You see, back in 1992, Kempner had recruited the amazing Missouri band Skeletons to assist in recording his wonderful and highly underrated debut solo album, titled Tenement Angels. However, when the band began the tour to support the new release, the indie label (which will remain nameless) “ran out of money” about a dozen dates into the tour, leaving Kempner essentially high-and-dry and not able to pay the band to continue touring.

Therefore, Scott was forced to call an audible, re-think these new songs meant for himself and the Skeletons to play and head out on a solo tour in trial-by-fire style! As the CD liner notes state; “It was my only option and baptism by fire, as I now had to try and figure out how in the world to present the album and my catalog, alone in the spotlight with a beat up acoustic guitar.”

Sure sounds kind of scary (and ballsy) doesn’t it?

Well, upon listening to Live on Blueberry Hill, it can be said that Kempner was surely able to take whatever uncertainty he may have been experiencing at the time and turn it into an edgy motivation for which to perform not only these new solo numbers, but also songs from his days leading The Del Lords. A transition that quite frankly, couldn’t have been an easy one to pull off, especially when considering Scott was singing some of these songs for the first time... and lot of rehearsal time, he did not have!

The 15 tracks on Blueberry Hill, for a one-man show are dynamic and emotional, creating an atmosphere in which the listener can “feel” what the lyrics are meant to convey. From Tenement songs like “Bad Intent,” “Hot Rod Angel” and “Livin’ With Her, Livin’ With Me,” to the revamped Del Lords tracks “Judas Kiss,” “Cheyenne” and the set-opening “Livin’ on Love,” Scott recreates these songs with a sensibility that does not feel forced or contrived in the least... quite a feat when you understand the back story.

Produced by Kempner and re-mastered from a bootleg recorded early on during this makeshift solo tour in '93, the CD packaging is sleek and the liner notes complete, painting a clear picture as you settle back and absorb these restructured, acoustic gems seemingly pulled straight out of the Springsteen book of storytelling. The interaction with the audience alone, tells you that the fans whole-heartedly approved of an audible successfully pulled off!

To learn more about the adventures of Scott “Top Ten” Kempner or to order the new CD Live on Blueberry Hill, visit

Editor's Note: Also check out Standing Room Only's recent article featuring the career of Scott Kempner.